Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body does not make or use insulin in the correct way. Different types of diabetes have various risk factors and effects on blood sugar.

At least 1 in 4 people with diabetes do not know that they have the disease.

Knowing the risk factors for diabetes is important for preventing its more severe effects and damage. As diabetes often does not cause symptoms in its early stages, taking steps to reduce the risk factors can prevent or even reverse the condition.

In this article, we look at three main kinds of diabetes: Type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes, along with their primary risk factors.

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Having siblings with type 1 diabetes increases the risk of developing it.

In type 1 diabetes, the body makes no insulin or not enough of the hormone. This condition occurs in around 5 percent of those with diabetes.

Doctors treat type 1 diabetes with either insulin injections or an insulin pump alongside dietary management.

The main risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:

  • Family history: Having a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes increases the risk of a person having the same type. If both parents have type 1 diabetes, the risk is even higher.
  • Age: Type 1 diabetes usually develops in younger adults and children. It is one of the most common chronic conditions that develop in childhood. Children are typically younger than 14 years old when they receive a diagnosis. Type 1 diabetes might occur at any age, although developing type 1 diabetes later in life is rare.
  • Genetics: Having specific genes may increase the risk of type 1 diabetes. A person's doctor can check for these genes.

Other factors for type 1 diabetes are under investigation, such as this 2012 study's suggestion that geographical distance from the equator can increase the risk. However, more research is necessary to confirm the other risk factors.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In type 2, the body can still make some insulin but is not able to use the hormone as effectively as it should.

Insulin usually allows cells to absorb glucose. However, the cells can become less sensitive to insulin, leaving more sugar in the blood. If blood sugar is permanently high, a person may have developed type 2 diabetes.

An increase in blood sugar can lead to damage in the body. Type 2 diabetes often moves through a stage called prediabetes during which a person can reverse the progress of the condition with healthful lifestyle choices.

Unlike type 1 diabetes, people often treat type 2 with oral, non-insulin medications. However, insulin injections may still be necessary if type 2 diabetes does not respond to these alternatives.

Type 2 diabetes has two types of risk factor, or those a person can take steps to avoid and those they cannot.

Unavoidable risk factors

There are various risk factors for type 2 diabetes, some of which people cannot avoid, including:

  • family history of the disease
  • race, as African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, or Pacific Islanders all have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes than other groups
  • being over 45 years of age
  • acanthosis nigricans, a condition where dark, thick, velvety skin develops around the neck or armpits
  • a history of gestational diabetes
  • depression
  • having a baby that weighs over 9 pounds at birth
  • having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Preventable risk factors

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A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of diabetes.

There are some risk factors for type 2 diabetes that people can take steps to try and avoid, including:

  • getting little or no exercise
  • hypertension, or high blood pressure
  • obesity or being overweight, especially having excess weight around the midriff
  • heart or blood vessel disease and stroke
  • low levels of "good" cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL)
  • high levels of the fats called triglycerides

People can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by altering some of these lifestyle factors, especially by improving their diet and exercise regimen.

Calculating type 2 diabetes risk

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Disorders (NIDDK) has a tool that people can use to calculate their risk of type 2 diabetes.

The test takes seven risk factors, including weight and height, into account to calculate a person's body mass index (BMI) score.

BMI is a crucial aspect of diabetes risk. While BMI is not the most accurate measure of health, a high BMI can give an indicator of diabetes risk.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops when a person is pregnant.

Most women with gestational diabetes will not have had any diabetes before. Gestational diabetes resolves after the birth of the baby.

Once a woman has had gestational diabetes, the chances are that it will return in future pregnancies. Also, having had gestational diabetes, the individual's risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases sevenfold.

Risk factors for gestational diabetes are much the same as other kinds of diabetes. These include:

  • a family or personal history of diabetes
  • prediabetes
  • previous, unexplained stillbirths
  • being overweight or obese
  • unhealthful diet
  • race

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Even dancing around the home counts towards the weekly exercise recommendation.

There is no cure for diabetes at present. However, a person can reverse diabetes or see it go into remission.

A return to normal blood glucose levels for at least 1 year without using medication suggests that diabetes is in remission.

Early diagnosis and proper treatment can help prevent or delay diabetes-induced difficulties. Knowing the risk factors can help people to identify and manage diabetes before it causes problems.

While a person cannot avoid some risk factors, such as age and race, they can take steps to reduce the damage of others, including high blood pressure, excess body weight, and a poor diet.

Controlling these risk factors can go a long way towards managing the effects of diabetes or the possibility of developing it.

These steps include:

  • Eating smaller portions at meal times.
  • Being active for a minimum of 30 minutes on 5 days of the week, even if this is just dancing to music at home or going on walks.
  • Consuming a diet rich in plant foods, vegetables, and low-sugar, low-salt products.
  • Avoiding soda pops, excess alcohol, sweet and sugary snacks, processed meals, and fried or junk food.

Regular check-ups are also important. For example, people over 40 years of age who have no risk factors for diabetes should see their doctor at least every 3 years. People with one or more risk factors should see a doctor more often.

If a person already has type 2 diabetes, their parents, children, brothers, and sisters are also at risk. If they have not already done so, close family members should seek a medical opinion on their own risk of developing diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the most widespread and chronic health problems in the United States.

Without treatment, it can cause significant damage. Over time, it may lead to blindness, kidney failure, stroke, heart failure, loss of a limb, and reduced life expectancy.

Diabetes does not often cause symptoms early on, so recognizing and managing the risk factors is often the only chance an individual has to avoid its complications.

A person should take steps to prevent or delay health problems as soon as they learn about their diabetes risk.

Q:

Does diabetes ever cause symptoms?

A:

Diabetes can cause weight loss, frequent urination, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, nausea, poor wound healing. In pregnancy, it can increase the size of the baby and shoulder girth every when it is a normal weight. This can result in shoulder dystocia.

The rate of stillbirth also increases.

Valinda Riggins Nwadike Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.